The Man with the Plan: British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce to Open Office in Lviv

  • The Man with the Plan: British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce to Open Office in Lviv
  • The Man with the Plan: British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce to Open Office in Lviv
Issue 87, February 2016.

The Man with the Plan:

British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce to Open Office in Lviv

When it comes to foreigners knowing a thing or two about Ukraine, few understand the country better than Bate C. Toms. Heading the oldest Western law office in the country, this Yale & Cambridge-educated lawyer has been working in the country for 25 years. In that time he’s rubbed shoulders with some of this country’s most powerful – from politicians to celebrities, from business leaders to athletes – and has stories to share about them all. He also has some well-researched ideas on what Ukraine should do next, including right here in Lviv.

Lviv Today sat down with Toms in advance of the opening of the new British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (BUCC) office in Lviv.

The Man with the Plan: Bate C. Toms

Bate C. Toms knows Ukraine. Having lived and worked in the country since before independence was declared from the Soviet Union, he’s seen all Ukraine’s ups and downs, experienced all of its stunted starts, and has the battle scars and sagacious stories that come along with it.  Arriving in the heady days of Gorbachev’s glasnost-era Soviet Union, Toms fondly recalls being the first Western lawyer to open up a presence in the country. He can also share some of the trials and tribulations of working here at that time, including when a competitor went to the government in an attempt to get his visa revoked (it backfired). But he can also speak of real achievements – both in terms of the country, and in professional terms. He lists initiating and handling the largest oil and gas investment in the history of Ukraine, as well as its largest agricultural deal, and of winning the country’s largest arbitration. He speaks in detail and with conviction on the legal and economic issues that contemporary Ukraine faces. He doesn’t just complain about inconsistencies or lack of progress though; he has concrete ideas of where Ukraine can improve. He is, after all, the Man with the Plan.

Trains, Trade & Tourists: The 3-Point Plan

It’s simple as to why the BUCC plans to open offices in Lviv and Odesa – they hope to see both centres turn into linked transportation hubs. “The quickest way between China and Northern Europe is through Odesa”, argues Toms, who also serves as BUCC Chairman. To that end, the BUCC has supported port reforms in the Black Sea city and is trying to facilitate the organisation of rail guage transfer stations and private freight railways in Lviv Oblast to handle the additional shipping that a reformed port is expected to attract. “This will be a big business for Lviv,” he added, before musing that “along with Lviv’s wonderful airport, it could turn the city into a freight hub.” But where the man really lights up is when he speaks about where he believes Lviv’s comparative advantage really lies, and that is in tourism.

Brits on the Rynok: How the BUCC can help Lviv

While Leopolitans, and those that have visited our great city, know full well how much of a tourist gem Lviv already is, Toms argues that not only is Lviv relatively unknown in Europe, but that when it is known it tends to be unfairly tainted by Russian propaganda as a dangerous place swarming with right-wing radicals. That view of one of the world’s most beautiful cities “needs to be erased”, argues Toms, while adding that Lviv should become a leader at projecting a positive image of Ukraine abroad. He offers a comparison with the Polish city of Krakow and rattles off numbers to support his view – 4.2 million through their airport last year, over $2 billion into their economy – “We think Lviv can do better”. He believes that tourism will inject “huge amounts” of money into both the Lviv and Ukrainian economies and knows just how the BUCC can help: (1) Help foreigners learn about Lviv; (2) Get foreigners to come here; and (3) organise direct flights from London and elsewhere to get them here. He explains that the BUCC is engaging the leading British travel PR firm to assist in this regard, and points out that this will be done by private fundraising – “at no cost to Lviv”. “We want people to come to Lviv for the excellent accommodations, the delicious food, the incredible sights, all the cathedrals and churches, and the medieval city centre”, he explains, and “We feel we can make a great contribution because London is the biggest tourist market in Europe.”

From Networking to Investing: BUCC connects companies

Neither Toms nor the BUCC are strangers to Lviv. Toms has held a law office presence in the city for years, while the BUCC is proud to host the annual opening luncheon for the Lviv’s popular Alpha Jazz Festival. In addition to trains, trade, and tourism, he lists a number of ways the BUCC plans to be part of the Lviv community: from building links between companies, to attracting investment, to hosting regular networking events and information seminars, to educational events on business and business-related activities. In addition to the work in Lviv, the BUCC has a number of other objectives on their plate. One is to increase the availability of political risk insurance in the country, while the other is to introduce a Western-style legal ombudsman that can receive complaints on unjust legal decisions and make formal recommendations on disciplining judges responsible for hearing those cases. Without a more trustworthy legal system, he argues, it will be difficult to attract investments. And while speaking passionately – and persuasively – on both issues, you can tell his heart lies in the Western Ukrainian capital. “I expect to spend a lot of time in the city developing tourism,” says Toms, “Actually, I’m looking at buying some premises right now.”

For more information on the British Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce, please contact Bate C. Toms directly at: [email protected].